Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine   Official publication of Indian Association of  0ccupational  Health  
 Print this page Email this page   Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size
 Users Online:195

  IAOH | Subscription | e-Alerts | Feedback | Login 

Home About us Current Issue Archives Search Instructions
   Next article
   Previous article 
   Table of Contents
    Similar in PUBMED
     Search Pubmed for
     Search in Google Scholar for
   Related articles
    Article in PDF (86 KB)
    Citation Manager
    Access Statistics
    Reader Comments
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  


 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded194    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 1    

Recommend this journal


Year : 2006  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 41-42

Physicians response to patients telephone calls-pitfalls and solutions

Department of Surgery, Burdwan Medical College, Burdwan, West Bengal-713101, India

Correspondence Address:
De Utpal
K-1/3, phase-2A, Dankuni Housing Complex, Dankuni, Hooghly, West Bengal - 713101
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.22895

Rights and Permissions



Telephone medicine is a fast emerging concept and training in telephone medicine skills is limited among physicians. Increased awareness in telephone medicine may assist physicians in minimizing the risk of errors.

Keywords: Telephone medicine

How to cite this article:
Utpal D. Physicians response to patients telephone calls-pitfalls and solutions. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2006;10:41-2

How to cite this URL:
Utpal D. Physicians response to patients telephone calls-pitfalls and solutions. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 May 27];10:41-2. Available from:

  Introduction Top

The rapid advancement in the field of information and technology has initiated new areas of challenges for physicians. Issues like use of mobile phones by physicians has been of debate.[1] Other portals of communication like e-mails and web-based medicine has been on the rise. The inherent advantage of remaining in touch with patient information within the reach of keypad/ keyboard has to be weighed against the potential disadvantages. Although 25% of interactions between physicians and patients take place on the telephone, little has been written about telephone communication and medical mishaps.[2] Errors in telephone communication can result in outcomes ranging from inconvenience and anxiety to serious compromises in patient safety. Only 6% of residency programs in developed nations teach any aspect of telephone medicine.[3] In India the concept of telephone medicine is not only new but an unexplored area and the overall training in telephone medicine skills is limited among physicians. The article is a review of this common emerging problem and suggests some guidelines.

Errors of non face to face communication

Adverse outcomes resulting from communication errors over telephone may range from inconvenience and anxiety to serious risks to patient safety. History-taking may be inadequate in phone calls, and management decisions may be inappropriate.[4] Other potential disadvantages of telephone consultations include failure to detect a problem, breach of patient confidentiality, narcotic abuse by patients, misunderstanding of physician advice, and medical errors.[5]

With e-mail, clues to a patient's emotion based on voice inflections are unavailable, and the asynchronous nature of e-mail and Web-based communication hinder following the development of acute symptoms.[6]


Standardized recommendations and strategies to handle telephonic conversation are lacking. Some practical guidelines that would be of help include:

1. The lack of visual clues prevents the physician from gauging patient emotional response. The physician should verbally check in with the patient to determine if he or she is available to speak and allow the patient to express himself or herself before offering or exercising other options.

2. At the clinic visit, the manner in which laboratory results will be reported to the patient should be clearly established. Significant tests, such as HIV screening, should be followed by a visit to discuss results.

3. The physician should always attempt to speak to the patient when a relative or friend is the caller and be cautious with interpretation of information provided by others.

4. Physicians should be comfortable denying inappropriate requests, such as narcotics over the telephone.

5. Reassurance is an important role of physicians taking telephone calls and may be perceived as more important than relief of symptoms.

6. As face-to-face communication is not possible, asking the patient to repeat instructions from the physician can ensure comprehension and minimize the risk for errors.

7. Physicians should avoid interrupting the patient and listen to the entire story.

8. The physician should be aware of his or her own paralanguage and its effect on the patient.

9. When symptoms do not warrant an emergency evaluation, a "check-in" call strategy can be effective.

10. Consider hidden concerns in patients who call at inappropriate hours and allow patients full opportunity to offer the chief complaint using open-ended questions, such as "Is there anything else you want me to know about?"

11. Patients who are hearing impaired, dysarthric, mentally disabled, or aphasic may be hard to understand over the telephone. After excluding an emergency, the physician should consider the use of an intermediary for communication.

12. If the patient is calling from a noisy location, a change of location may be suggested.


Effective curriculum in telephone medicine for residents, medical students, support staff, and faculty should be initiated at every level of medical practice. Educational strategies to optimize the telephone consultation in terms of best patient outcome should include the use of standardized patients presenting over the telephone, scripted dialogues, and simulated case scenarios.

  Conclusion Top

Thus telephone communication will remain a major part of doctor-patient communication for the foreseeable future, despite the advances in other distance technologies. Recognizing and learning about communication challenges in telephone medicine is essential for good clinical practice.

  References Top

1.Fointiat V. "Foot-in-the-mouth" versus "door-in-the-face" requests. J Soc Psychol 2000;140:264-6.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  
2.Nordal EJ, Moseng D, Kvammen B, Lochen ML. A comparative study of teleconsultations versus face-to-face consultations. J Telemed Telecare 2001;7:257-65.   Back to cited text no. 2  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
3.Miller EA. Telemedicine and doctor-patient communication:a theoretical framework for evaluation. J Telemed Telecare 2002;8:311-8.   Back to cited text no. 3  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
4.Gilmour E, Campbell SM, Loane MA, Esmail A, Griffiths CE, Roland MO, et al . Comparison of teleconsultations and face-to-face consultations:preliminary results of a United Kingdom multicentre teledermatology study. Br J Dermatol 1998;139:81-7.   Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Aarnio P, Rudenberg H, Ellonen M, Jaatinen P. User satisfaction with teleconsultations for surgery. J Telemed Telecare 2000;6:237-41.   Back to cited text no. 5  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
6.Oztas MO, Calikoglu E, Baz K, Birol A, Onder M, Calikoglu T, et al . Reliability of Web-based teledermatology consultations. J Telemed Telecare 2004;10:25-8.   Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Granlund H. Aspects of quality:face-to-face versus teleconsulting. Curr Probl Dermatol 2003;32:158-66.  Back to cited text no. 7  [PUBMED]  
8.Miller EA. Telemedicine and doctor-patient communication:a theoretical framework for evaluation. J Telemed Telecare 2002;8:311-8.  Back to cited text no. 8  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
9.Conrath DW, Buckingham P, Dunn EV, Swanson JN. An experimental evaluation of alternative communication systems as used for medical diagnosis Behav Sci 1975;20:296-305.  Back to cited text no. 9  [PUBMED]  

This article has been cited by
1 Post-operative care through tele-follow up visits in patients undergoing thyroidectomy and parathyroidectomy in a resource-constrained environment
Mishra, A., Kapoor, L., Mishra, S.K.
Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare. 2009; 15(2): 73-76


Print this article  Email this article
Previous article Next article